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Thomas Gray to Richard West, [22 May 1737]

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Richard West, Esq.
at Christ-Church in
23 MA

My good West

I am qualified with full and ample powers to treat with you in the names of HW and TA ; but as you thought fit to begin with me, I shall think fit to begin with myself: there can be no excuse made for the backwardness of my payments, but Poverty; alas! Master, times are so hard, and trading so bad, that now & then a Pepper Corn is all [we] can pretend to; but if your Worship would call, as you come this way [you] shall be as welcome to a rasher of Bacon, & a pitcher of drink, as the Lord Mayor of London–in short I depend upon seeing you here next month[:] we have indeed nothing to shew you, but three old faces, that you have been long used to, tho' perhaps you may find something new even in them; as for me, I shall be incessantly painting my eyes, & tiring my head, & looking out at the window in expectation of your wheels; so pray let your driving, be as the driving of Jehu, the Son of Nimshi: Mr Conway has been here about a fortnight, & the little Insensible was neither struck with Kings-Chappel, nor moved with Trinity-Quadrangle, nor touched with the Senate-house, & even talked of Oxford, as he was walking on Clare-hall Walks; we expect you should be moved, struck, & touched with every thing you see here; we have pulled down half my College, that you may have fewer Fibs to tell, when y[ou] begin to praise it; you are to suppose the demolish'd to have been the best part of it, & that, that is to be built, you may say all the fine things you please about: we have put our trees in their best green Liverys, [or]der'd the Sun to clear our Air, Walpole's Greyhound has got a new Collar, [his?] Cat has learn'd to dance, and all this against you come: we can't keep [our] best looks & manners long, so make hast, I charge you: Leonidas, to tell you all that I think of it, not to conceal my judgement in any point, is really, excessively —, I particularly admire that noble passage in the —th Book, Line the —th, & then, then the Pathos in that speech of — to —, & the Simile concerning the —, so applicable to the present State of Affairs, and most people that I have met with, I find perfectly of my opinion in this; for those who admire it, & those, who do not; joyn in thinking the above-mention'd passages perfectly fine: what think you of Mr Pope's, Cum tot sustineas &c: to me, much preferable to, Flore bono &c: & pray have you read, the Spleen, publish'd sometime ago; bad enough taken altogether perhaps; but if you pull it to pieces, you may find pretty picking, & Scraps of great beauty: the Essay on Conversation is by no means contemptible: if you direct letters to me out of malice, I will give you all possible provocations; we excuse your Epigram upon condition you always fill up your backsides in the same manner; my backside is too broad to be cover'd with an Epigram, so I'll tell you a story; you must know, that Rinaldo was lost, [so?] one Carlo & Ubaldo went to look for him, they did not know where; & so

Dismiss'd at length, they break thro' all delay
To tempt the dangers of the doubtfull way:
And first to Ascalon their steps they bend,
Whose walls along the neighbouring Sea extend;
Nor yet in prospect rose the distant Shore,
Scarce the hoarse waves from far were heard to roar;
When thwart the road a river roll'd his flood
Tempestuous, and all further course withstood:
The torrent stream his ancient bounds disdains
Swoln with new force, & late-descending rains:
Irresolute they stand; when lo, appears
A wondrous Sage; vig'rous he seems in years,
Awful his mien, low as his feet there flows
A vestment unadorn'd, tho' white as new fal'n Snows:
Against the stream the wave secure he trod;
His head a chaplet bore, his hand a Rod.

As on the Rhine, when Boreas' fury reigns,
And winter binds the floods in icy chains;
Swift shoots the village-Maid with rustick play
Smooth, without step adown the shining way,
Fearless in long excursion loves to glide,
And sports, and wantons o'er the frozen tide.
So moved the Seer; but on no harden'd plain,
The river boil'd beneath, & rush'd into the Main:
Where fix'd in wonder stood the warlike pair
His course he turn'd, & thus relieved their care.

Vast, oh my friends, & difficult's the toil
To seek your hero in a distant Soil;
No common helps, no common guide ye need,
Art it requires, & more than winged speed:
What length of Sea remains, what various lands,
Oceans untried, inhospitable Sands?
For adverse fate the captive Chief has hurl'd
Beyond the confines of our narrow world:
Great things & full of wonder in your ears
I shall reveal; but first dismiss your fears,
Nor doubt with me to tread the downward road,
That to the grotto leads, my dark abode.

Scarce had he said, before the warriours eyes
When mountain-high the waves disparted rise;
The flood on either hand its billows rears,
And in the midst a spatious arch appears:
Their hands he seized, & down the Steep he led
Beneath th'obedient rivers inmost bed.
The watry glimm'rings of a fainter day
Discover'd half, & half conceal'd their way,
As when athwart the dusky woods by night
Th' uncertain Crescent gleams a sickly light.

Thro' subterraneous passages they went,
Earth's inmost cells, & [caves o]f deep descent.
Of many a spring they vi[ew]d the secret source,
The birth of rivers, rising t[o] their course;
How infant-springs in mazy wandrings stream
Pregnant of many a tide, & floods of mighty name;
Whate'er with copious train its channel fills,
Floats into lakes, or bubbles into rills:
The Po was there to see, Euphrates' Bed,
And Danube's fount, & Nile's mysterious head.

Further they pass where ripening minerals glow,
And embryon metals undigested flow,
Sulphureous veins, & living Silver shine,
Which soon the parent Suns warm powers refine,
In one rich mass unite the pretious Store,
The parts combine & harden into Oar.
Here gems break thro' the night with glitt'ring beam,
And paint the margin of the costly Stream:
All stones of lustre shoot their vivid ray,
And mix attempred in a various day:
Here the soft emerald smiles of verdant hue
Here rubies flame with Sapph[ires] heavenly blew;
The diamond there attracts the wondring sight,
Proud in its thousand dies, & luxury of light.

&c: &c:

T: Gray

Now for Walpole; he bids me tell you, as follows

[           ]

H: Walpole.

Now for Ashton, he desires I'd send you word from him that he

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Letter ID: letters.0641 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 20
Addressee: West, Richard, 1716-1742
Addressee's age: 21[?]


Date of composition: [22 May 1737]
Calendar: Julian


Place of composition: [Cambridge, United Kingdom]
Place of addressee: [Oxford, United Kingdom]

Physical description

Form/Extent: A.L.S.; 3 pages; the margins are damaged
Addressed: To / Richard West, Esq. / at Christ-Church in / Oxford (postmark: 23 MA)


Language: English
Incipit: I am qualified with full and ample powers to treat with you in the names...
Mentioned: Cambridge
Pope, Alexander
Stillingfleet, Benjamin

Holding Institution

Misc. MSS, Manuscript Collections, The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University Library , New Haven, CT (Beinecke)/Farmington, CT (Lewis Walpole), USA <>
Availability: The original letter is extant and usually available for academic research purposes

Print Versions

  • The Times Literary Supplement, 23 Oct. 1937, 776
  • Correspondence of Thomas Gray, 3 vols. Ed. by the late Paget Toynbee and Leonard Whibley, with corrections and additions by H. W. Starr. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971 [1st ed. 1935], letter no. 37*, vol. iii, 1315-1319